A new report by Conflict Armament Research has found that Yemen’s Houthi rebels have standardized and mass-produced improvised explosive devices with components, some of which originate in Iran.
Evidence collected by the research organization suggests that the use of landmines and IEDs is widespread and has increased as Houthi forces retreat from coalition advances, and that Houthi forces used significant quantities of improvised mines, supplemented by a much smaller number of conventionally manufactured mines that likely originate from Yemeni army stockpiles.
It also documents an improvised naval mine and a MANPADS gripstock.
“This report reveals the extensive use of landmines and IEDs throughout Yemen,” James Bevan, Executive Director of Conflict Armament Research said. “The vast majority of landmines being recovered are improvised, standardized and mass-produced, domestically, by Houthi forces on a scale only previously achieved by Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.”
U.K.-based Conflict Armament Research works on the ground in active armed conflicts and tracks the supply of weapons, ammunition, and military materiel, documenting weapons at the point of use and tracking their sources back through supply chains.
CAR has conducted missions to Yemen since April 2017 to document materiel seized from non-state armed groups, including Houthi forces, and during its eighth field mission in July, field researchers documented materiel recovered during Saudi-led coalition advances along Yemen’s west coast toward the crucial Red Sea port of Hodeidah.
“The use of landmines and IEDs is a growing threat in Yemen and one that will persist long after the current phase of the conflict concludes,” Bevan said.
Improvised mines documented by CAR in Yemen are standardized and in some cases serialized, suggesting mass production. They are either identical in design to or closely resemble conventional mines. Houthis also standardize, serialize, and mass-produce IEDs, along with their main charges and switches.
CAR documented three types of improvised landmine: a small Claymore-type directional mine that researchers believe is probably based on a Chinese-manufactured Type 150A GLD directional mine; a larger directional mine that most closely resembles an Iranian-manufactured M18A2; and an anti-vehicle mine that loosely resembles a Soviet TM-46 or TM-57 anti-vehicle mine. The anti-vehicle mine is by far the most prevalent, the report says.
It concludes that Houthis manufactured the landmines in Yemen because they are clearly improvised, their use appears to be restricted to Houthi forces, and they have not been recovered from other parties to Yemen’s conflict. They have not been documented outside Yemen.
Video footage released by Houthi forces showed numerous identical mines in a workshop, as well as other IEDs and improvised weapons under construction, and a number of recent defectors have said that Houthis manufacture mines and other IEDs.
CAR documented two types of IED main charge – both standardized and serialized – improvised grenades, and a gripstock for a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS). The gripstock had basic instructions on its use fixed to the exterior, as did an improvised grenade and hundreds of pressure plates used in IEDs.
These labels include lot numbers and serial numbers, indicating mass-production, and, potentially, an organized distribution system. Additionally, the basic instructions possibly indicate they were distributed to low-skilled users.
CAR documented a single improvised naval mine, but the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen recorded 35 similar devices.
The conventional mines were manufactured in various countries including Belgium, Italy, China and the former German Democratic Republic. Some of the mine types are known to have been held by Yemeni forces before the civil war, and some have similar lot numbers and production dates to mines that coalition forces seized from an Islamic State in Yemen cell in Aden.
Electronic components from Iran
Electronic components used in remote control IEDs – including PIR sensors, transmitters, and receivers – were manufactured in 2008. Their design and construction are identical to materiel that CAR has previously documented, and which it has determined originated from Iran.
It found that some components had markings removed, indicating attempts to obscure their provenance.
CAR documented dozens of synthetic rock-concealed IEDs, which coalition forces have recovered throughout Taiz and Hodeida governorates.
In a March report that focused on explosively formed projectiles (EFP) in Yemen, CAR said that “multiple strands of information suggest that Iran orchestrated the transfer of technology and materiel to Houthi forces in Yemen to assist in the manufacture of [radio-controlled IEDs].”
That report found that the EFPs found in Yemen, which were camouflaged to resemble rocks, were similar to devices documented by CAR field investigation teams elsewhere in the Middle East, including some that the Israel Defense Forces recovered from Hezbollah, and more recovered by U.S. forces in Iraq.
They are armed by radio control and initiated using passive infrared (PIR) switches, and are classed as radio-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs).
Components used in the RCIEDs are identical to those in an RCIED seized by Bahraini security forces from Iranian-backed militants and documented by CAR in Bahrain. Further, these components are identical to those captured by Yemeni security forces on board the Jihan 1 cargo ship in 2013. The boat was traveling from Iran.
The March report concludes that, multiple strands of information “suggest that, at the very least, Iran has provided Houthi forces with the electronic components necessary for the manufacture of RCIEDs.”
In January 2013, Yemeni security forces intercepted the Jihan 1 cargo vessel off the coast of Yemen.
It was transporting military equipment of different types and origins, including Iranian manufactured ammunition and C-4 explosives, MANPADS, PIR sensors, and nearly 2,000 electronic components used in the manufacture of RCIEDs.
Initial reports claimed the consignment was destined for al-Shabaab in Somalia, but Yemeni officials asserted it was intended for Houthi forces. The U.N. Panel of Experts on Iran, which investigated the incident, concluded that Iran was “at the center of the Jihan operation.”
CAR compared confidential, unpublished photographs taken of components on the Jihan 1 with those documented in Yemen and Bahrain and determined that the components were identical.